CFT Previews: The College Football Playoff championship game

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WHO
No. 2 Oregon (13-1) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (13-1)

WHAT
The College Football Playoff championship game, presented by AT&T

WHEN
8:30 p.m. ET

WHERE
AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Tex.

HEAD COACHES
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (37-3 in three years with Buckeyes, 141-26 overall)
Oregon’s Mark Helfrich (24-3 in two seasons with Ducks)

 

STATISTICAL LEADERS
Ohio State
Rushing: Ezekiel Elliott, 1,632 yards, 14 touchdowns
Receiving: Michael Thomas, 50 receptions; Devin Smith, 886 yards, 12 touchdowns
Punt returns: Jalin Marshall, 12 yards per on 21 returns, one touchdown
Kick returns: Dontre Wilson. 24 yards per
Punting: Cameron Johnston, 45.3 yards per, 24 of 45 inside 20
Tackles: Joshua Perry, 118
Tackles for loss: Joey Bosa, 20
Sacks: Joey Bosa, 13.5
Interceptions: Vonn Bell, six
Passes defensed: Doran Grant, 14

Oregon
Rushing: Royce Freeman, 1,343 yards, 18 touchdowns
Receiving: Byron Marshall, 66 receptions, 834 yards; Devon Allen, seven touchdowns
Punt returns: Charles Nelson, 15.5 per on 11 returns, two touchdowns
Kick returns: Devon Allen, 26.1 per on eight returns
Punting: Ian Wheeler, 39 yards per, 10 of 41 inside 20
Tackles: Erick Dargan, 90
Tackles for loss: DeForest Buckner, 13
Sacks: Tony Washington, six
Interceptions: Erick Dargan, seven
Passes defensed: Troy Hill, 19

STATISTICAL MATCHUPS
Ohio State’s 10th-ranked rush offense (262.2 ypg) vs. Oregon’s 50th-ranked run defense (154.2 ypg)
UO’s 18th-ranked rush offense (241.9 ypg) vs. OSU’s 33rd-ranked run defense (139.8 ypg)
OSU’s 52-ranked pass offense (247.5 yp) vs. UO’s 103rd-ranked pass defense (259.5 ypg)
UO’s 11th-ranked pass offense (311 ypg) vs. OSU’s 17th-ranked pass defense (188.2 ypg)
OSU’s 5th-ranked scoring offense (45 ppg) vs. UO’s 29th-ranked scoring defense (22.5 ppg)
UO’s second-ranked scoring offense (47.2 ppg)) vs. 23rd-ranked scoring defense (21.2 ppg)

STAT THAT MIGHT MEAN SOMETHING… OR NOTHING
Oregon is 115th out 125 teams in penalty yards per game at 72, while Ohio State is 46th at 48.46 ypg.  The Ducks are 116th in penalties per game (8.07) and the Buckeyes are 51st (5.64).

COMMON OPPONENTS
Michigan State.  Oregon won 46-27 in Eugene Sept. 6, Ohio State won 49-37 in East Lansing Nov. 8.

LOSSES
Ohio State: 35-21 to Virginia Tech (7-6) in Columbus Sept. 6
Oregon: 31-24 to No. 10 Arizona (10-3) in Eugene Oct. 2

PORTFOLIO
Wins vs. bowl teams: Ohio State 11, Oregon 8
Wins vs. current CFP Top 25 teams: OSU 4, UO 5
Wins in true road games: OSU 4, UO 5
Wins by 10-plus points: OSU 10, UO 12

Wandering Webfoots

NOTES TO NOTE
— Ohio State and Oregon played in the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball championship game in 1939. The Ducks won by a score of 46-33, and it’s very possible that both team will top the winning cager’s point total in this title matchup.

— Ohio State is 8-0 all-time vs. Oregon on the gridiron. The first game was played in the Rose Bowl following the 1957 season, the last coming in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. Of the six games played in between those two Rose Bowls, five were played in Columbus and one in Eugene. The average margin of victory for the Buckeyes is 16.6, with the Ducks not scoring more than 17 points in any of those contests.

— There are three players (tight end Pharaoh Brown, defensive back Troy Hill, wide receiver Dwayne Stanford) from the state of Ohio listed on Oregon’s roster, while there are no players from the state of Oregon listed on Ohio State’s roster. Neither coaching staff has any assistants who are from the opposite state.

— 23 Ducks were born in Oregon, while 62 Buckeyes hail from Ohio. Seven of Urban Meyer‘s nine assistants, the lone exceptions being co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Chris Ash and defensive line coach/assistant head coach Larry Johnson, were born in Ohio. Meyer was as well.

— Ohio State claims seven national championships, the first in 1942 and the last in 2002. Oregon has never won a national championship since it began playing football in 1915.

— The three finalists for the 2014 Heisman Trophy were Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Oregon quarterback, and winner, Marcus Mariota. The Buckeyes beat Gordon’s Badgers in the Big Ten championship game, then in their next game beat Cooper’s Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl semifinal.

— In the 2007 BCS title game, Meyer’s Florida Gators beat Ohio State and Heisman winner Troy Smith 41-14. In the 2009 BCS title game, Meyer’s Gators beat the Oklahoma Sooners and Heisman winner Sam Bradford 24-14.

All State Sugar Bowl - Alabama v Ohio State
Cardale Jones

OHIO STATE WINS IF…
Cardale Jones remains Cardale Jones and doesn’t turn into a pumpkin at midnight.

Jones, who found himself third on the quarterback depth chart in mid-August, has started the past two games and showed absolutely no signs that the stage was too big for him.  In 69 pass attempts this season, including 52 in the wins over Wisconsin and Alabama, Jones has thrown just one interception.  Some of the most impressive throws for Jones, nicknamed 12-gauge for both his number and arm strength, have been his decisions to throw the ball away and live to play another down.

In the Ducks, Jones will be facing a defense that intercepted just 12 passes this season (their .857 picks per game is 75th nationally) and has shown a propensity to give up yards in chunks through the air.  Jones, and the stout OSU rushing attack led by Ezekiel Elliott for that matter, will get their yardage if the defensive theme from the 2014 season continues.  The Buckeyes need to capitalize on their scoring chances and, again, avoid the turnovers on which the Ducks’ offense thrives and, ultimately, buries the opposition.

Big plays have been a staple of OSU’s offense, especially after Jones took over.  However, given their opposition’s offensive firepower, long, sustained drives — that end in touchdowns, not field goals — might be in order as it looks to keep the Ducks off the field.

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State
Rose Bowl – Oregon v Florida State

OREGON WINS IF…
… it creates turnovers and general havoc around an inexperienced quarterback.

OK, maybe not at the level of the semifinal blowout of Florida State, when the Seminoles coughed the ball up five times in looking like a team that hadn’t played the game in years, but the Ducks will need to, as they have all season long, continue creating turnovers in what’s expected to be a back-and-forth offensive affair.  This season, the Ducks are plus-20 in turnover margin, the best in the country this season.  Just as importantly, the Ducks need to capitalize off the turnovers like they did in the semifinal, scoring touchdowns after all five Seminole miscues.  In UO’s lone loss of the season, to Arizona, the Ducks were unable to score any points off of the Wildcats’ two turnovers.

In OSU’s only loss of the year, to Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes turned it over three times to the Hokies’ defense.  Overall, the Buckeyes are T-61st in turnovers lost with 22, so there could be opportunities for the Ducks’ defense to get the ball back for its high-powered offense.

Both teams have shown all season long that, for the most part, no defense will stop their respective offenses for any appreciable length of time.  Thus, a safe bet is that whichever team wins the turnover battle will stand a better-than-average chance of winning the game. It may be trite or a cliché, but that, the number of turnovers, will very likely prove to be the bottom line.

Sean Nuernberger
Sean Nuernberger

IF IT COMES DOWN TO A FIELD GOAL…
… Ohio State could be screwed.

Sean Nuernberger has made just 13 of his 20 field-goal attempts this season.  He’s missed half of his 10 attempts from between 40-49 yards, and hasn’t attempted one from beyond 50.

Meanwhile, two Oregon kickers, Aidan Schneider and Matt Wogan, have combined to make 16 of the team’s 19 field-goal attempts.   Oddly enough, though, they’ve missed four extra point attempts this season, while Nuernberger has made all 83 of his point afters.

When it comes to punting and the possibility of flipping field position, though, that’s a decided advantage for OSU.  Cameron Johnston is one of the top punters in the country, averaging 45.3 yards per punt (seventh nationally).  He’s put 24 of his 45 punts inside the 20-yard line, and 16 of his efforts went 50 or more yards.

Conversely, UO’s punter, Ian Wheeler, averaged just 39 yards per punt, with only 10 of his 41 boots pinning the opposition inside the 20.

Devon Allen
Devon Allen

INJURY REPORT
This is another significant advantage, Ohio State.

Devon Allen, Oregon’s kick return and receiving touchdown leader, has already been ruled out after sustaining a knee injury on the opening kickoff of the Florida State win.  And that’s on top of its top cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, having missed the playoffs because of a significant knee injury and its top tight end, Pharaoh Brown, out with a gruesome injury sustained in early November, out as well.  The Ducks’ top offensive linemen have been beat up to varying degrees throughout the season, but are all relatively healthy and will play in the title game.

While not an injury, there will be another absence of significance for the Ducks as second-leading receiver, yardage-wise, Darren Carrington will miss the title game because of a failed drug test.  Special teams ace Ayele Forde will not play either because of his own suspension for a failed drug test.  The injuries and suspensions, though, means that the Ducks will be without three of their top five pass-catchers in 2014 for the biggest game in the football program’s history.

For OSU, they are relatively healthy for having played 14 games, (likely) getting back top tight end Jeff Heuerman and running back Dontre Wilson (broken foot) for good measure. Heuerman, despite missing four complete games, is tied for the team lead among tight ends with 17 receptions while Wilson is sixth on the team with 112 rushing yards and fifth in receptions with 21.

Wilson, incidentally, is from Texas and was originally committed to the Ducks before flipping to the Buckeyes in February of 2013.

FASHION REPORT
For those into this kind of thing — not that there’s anything wrong with it — below are the uniforms that both teams will be wearing during Monday night’s first-ever CFP championship game:

CFP Uniforms

(Photo credit: Nike)

THE LINE
Ohio State, +7 (opened +7)
Over/under, 73½

THE PREDICTION
Ohio State 48, Oregon 43

Former Bengals offensive coordinator reportedly joining Florida support staff

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Former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is joining Florida’s staff as an analyst, according to Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Benoit.

Zampese spent the 2016-17 seasons as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator after serving 13 seasons as Marvin Lewis‘s quarterbacks coach. Cincinnati went 13-18-1 in Zampese’s two seasons running the offense, which is why he spent 2018 as the Cleveland Browns’ quarterbacks coach and the first part of 2019 as the offensive coordinator for the AAF’s Atlanta Legends.

He is the son of former Chargers, Rams, Cowboys and Patriots offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese.

It is not immediately known what the younger Zampese’s role will be with the Gators, but his experience indicates he’ll work with Dan Mullen and coordinators John Hevesy and Billy Gonzales to develop Florida’s offensive plan and help Brian Johnson tutor the quarterbacks, or perhaps use his coordinator experience to self-scout Florida’s offense and scout Florida’s future opponents.

Arizona launched hostile workplace probe following sexual harassment claims against Wildcat football players

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Arizona launched a hostile workplace investigation into its football program following multiple claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment made by multiple female equipment managers against multiple former Wildcat football players, the program confirmed to the Tucson Daily Star.

Lawyers representing the university did not say when the probe took place, but did say it was sparked by two complaints made by female equipment mangers. From the paper:

In 2014, two UA students who worked as equipment managers separately reported incidents involving nonconsensual sex with football players. In August of that year, police were told that a 21-year-old woman working for the athletic department had sex at least twice with three UA football players while the she was heavily intoxicated. One of the players recorded at least one of the encounters and showed it to other students, the report said.

The woman told police that she lost her job after the recording was released, according to the report.

….

While investigating the woman’s claim, UA’s Title IX office approached former manager Jacquelyn Hinek, who had quit her job months before, citing pervasive sexual harassment. After speaking to UA investigators, Hinek told Tucson police that she had been sexually assaulted in April 2013 by several men associated with the football team while at an off-campus party. She said the incident was recorded on a cell phone and later shown to other students. 

“The Office of Institutional Equity conducted a thorough review of the football equipment manager program and there were no findings of sex discrimination as a result of that investigation,” UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson told the paper via email.

The probe was one of three major investigations into the football program.

Arizona is currently being sued for Title IX violations by an alleged victim of former Wildcats running back Orlando Bradford, whom the victim says hit, choked and imprisoned her over a 2-day period in September 2016. Bradford is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence, but the Title IX suit seeks to depose a number of key figures within the football program, including former head coach Rich Rodriguez, who himself was the subject of a hostile workplace investigation in 2017. Allegations of sexual harassment made by his former assistant led to his dismissal last January. Rodriguez has denied any sexual harassment claims, arguing instead they were an extortion attempt against him.

In total, Arizona said it investigated 27 athletes or athletic department employees for sexual harassment, sexual assault or domestic violence from 2012 through ’17 (the period coinciding with Rodriguez’s hiring and firing), eight of them involving the football program.

UConn reportedly looking to keep football program in FBS, not FCS

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All the reporting that came out since the bombshell reports saying Connecticut is looking to leave the American Athletic Conference to rejoin the non-football Big East have confirmed that, yes, this is really happening, likely in time for the 2020-21 athletic year. The reporting has also said that UConn’s soon-to-be-homeless football program will not drop down to FCS, but instead join a different conference or try to make it as an FBS independent.

On Saturday, Stadium’s Brett McMurphy tweeted that UConn has determined it will not return to FCS, where the program competed for most of its history before joining the then-power conference Big East in 2004.

On Sunday morning, NCAA.com’s Andy Katz followed with a note saying it looked like the Huskies will try to make a go of it as an independent, writing that UConn will attempt to schedule neighbors like UMass (a fellow independent), Boston College, Syracuse and Rutgers while honoring existing contracts for home-and-homes with Duke, Illinois, NC State and others.

For a check in with someone who might actually know something, let’s see what Huskies head coach Randy Edsall has to say.

Oh, well.

Either way, it sounds like the train is moving and we could hear something official sooner rather than later.

Steve Spurrier getting into the restaurant business

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Steve Spurrier hasn’t coached a college football team since 2015, but that doesn’t mean the Head Ball Coach has retired.

The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and national championship head coach returned to his alma mater to serve as a brand ambassador in 2016, he’s appeared in commercials, and he won a self-proclaimed championship as head coach of the Orlando Apollos of the short-lived Alliance of American Football.

Now, he’s getting into the restaurant business.

On Friday, it was reported the 74-year-old Spurrier will announce that he’s seeking a partner to “operate his new American casual dining concept.”

Details are scarce at this point–that’s probably the point of the press conference–but I’m imagining Margaritaville with footballs. We’ll find out on Monday.